Monday, November 21, 2011

Condo project appraisal in Cozumel

I am currently revisiting a condo project in Cozumel, Mexico, that I appraised three years ago. Cozumel is an island off of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, a land full of lush tropical jungles and Mayan pyramids.

This particular condo project had a successful, sold-out first phase, but by late 2008 it was apparent that many vacation condo projects all over the world were in trouble. Many condo projects that I was visiting had stopped making sales altogether.

This project in Cozumel was faring slightly better; its rate of sales was down only 50% due to one of Cozumel’s unique attractions– it is a mecca for scuba divers from all over North America. Condo buyers at this particular project were typically both doctors and scuba divers, and the recession had hit this population subgroup less severely. Still, the forecast of a prolonged absorption of the unsold units resulted in a decision to not fund the construction of another phase. It was hoped that another lender would step in, but as can be seen in the photo, construction has been halted since 2008.

General worldwide conditions for vacation condos

The last three years or more have been difficult for second-home markets all over the world, as I have witnessed in such far-ranging locales as Barbados, Fiji, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Canada.

Many of the failed overseas second home projects were high end luxury projects focused on a growing number of “multi-millionaires” in the world. Each project tried to achieve a certain prestige by promising top shelf amenities vital to the ultimate success of such luxury projects.

Unfortunately, the market for vacation real estate is discretionary, and the purchase of vacation real estate has moved further down the priority scale for a large number of potential buyers. For instance, one of the main motivations for the purchase of vacation real estate has been the potential for financial return from the investment. While there were forces in place for price appreciation in advance of the recent financial crisis, buyers now recognize that the potential for appreciation of luxury second homes has significantly deteriorated. As for the ability subsidize ownership costs or earn a return on investment by renting out one’s property, a worldwide oversupply of vacation homes is driving down returns on investment.

Another concern from likely buyers relates to the continued financial viability of substantially unsold projects, and the risk of promised amenities not being built or else operating at a substantial deficit which would require increases in homeowners association dues. For instance, many golf course sales nowadays are to homeowners associations trying to rescue an affiliated golf course from bankruptcy. That often requires a substantial increase in POA dues.

In addition, the allure of owning a home in high-end vacation communities comes from the prestige of belonging to a successful community. The financial distress and litigation associated with an unsuccessful project may instead have the opposite impact. Being associated with a troubled project affects the psychology of potential luxury real estate buyers. Instead of looking savvy, a purchaser could now look naive. This makes the proposition for purchase due to a project’s prestige more difficult than before.

The valuation of a failed project is exceedingly difficult, as it typically takes several years to get such a project restarted if at all. Patient capital is required, and it is difficult to construct a discounted cash flow model that can correctly forecast the timing of the project’s turnaround.

Other Yucatecan ruins

The following photos are of ruins left behind in Cozumel by a post-Mayan race of people known as "speculative real estate developers".

Next stop: London
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Dimple Santiago said...

Thanks for sharing those details about that condo. This must be an interesting one and hope to see an update on what now happenings on that condo.

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